Lately I’ve been thinking about how to share more of my experiences surrounding non monogamy. I want to create more resources and yet I regularly avoid doing it. As someone who has always been non monogamous, it’s strange to me that I feel as reticent as I do to really roll up my sleeves and talk about it. I asked myself some hard questions: Am I ashamed? No. I’m confident in my relationships and I’m confident I can articulate myself clearly about them. Am I feeling supported? Absolutely, both personally and professionally. Is it impostor syndrome? Not this time! I have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Perhaps it’s too overwhelmingly vast a topic to tackle? Nah, that’s a feature, not a bug; there’s so much to work with!
Then it hit me: I feel a (self imposed) sense that I should be promoting and encouraging people to be accepting and open-minded towards non monogamy. Not recruiting, but dispelling myths, and generally being an ambassador. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Not every story has a happy ending. If I’m going to be talking about the positives of non monogamy, I have to also talk about the hard parts, the parts that make people uncomfortable. Non monogamy is hard work, arguably more so than monogamy, by its very design. But it’s not a competition, despite how so many people approach it. In the great debate of monogamy vs. non monogamy, there is no winner. Neither model is superior to the other because relationships are as unique as the individuals within them. Much to the discomfort of many people, that means that not all relationships are structured alike.
Non Monogamy Is Uniquely Complex
Anyone who has been in a non monogamous situation will tell you that, whether it worked for them or not, it was a whole hell of a lot of work. All connections take effort and intention, but balancing multiple romantic and/or sexual connections adds up quickly. Why? Because romantic and sexual relationships are held to a particular standard in terms of expectations and investment. Perfect example: The Relationship Escalator, the typical/expected chronology of monogamous relationships (meet, date, move in, get engaged, get married, have kids, etc). These are concepts we have absorbed throughout our lifetimes, living in a culture that supports and praises monogamous love above almost all other relationships. No one bats an eye at someone having multiple friends, but multiple partners? How can that be? I assure you, It’s entirely possible, but not under the values and paradigms of monogamy.
Non monogamy is by no means perfect, and it comes with its own issues and complexities. A sore spot within the NM community at large is the lack of understanding by monogamous folks about what non monogamy is and isn’t, and the validity of the experience. To the uninitiated, it may look like a free love free-for-all, with fewer responsibilities, and more sex. In reality, it’s more likely to be a lot of talking and self reflection, more scheduling conflicts than you ever thought possible, and a deep dive into compassion and empathy. Not all paths through non monogamy are fraught with insurmountable challenges, but there are situations and behaviours that exist in non monogamy that make navigating it uniquely challenging and filled with experiences that monogamists don’t need to navigate. Let’s look at a few of them.
Being a Practice Partner means being one of the first people someone connects with outside their existing relationship. In many cases, the existing couple has not sorted out all of their boundaries and expectations and are still learning about being open, and therefore they each seek out more experienced people to “try” non monogamy with. I have never dated a couple, I have never been a Unicorn, but I have accidentally been the test scenario for dysfunctional couples to practise with, and it sucks. I have inadvertently been a Practice Partner for several couples, and it’s not something I would ever knowingly do again.
Part of what makes the Practice Partner and Unicorn Hunting phenomenons so challenging and often unfair, is Couple’s Privilege. Our culture exalts heterosexual dyad (two people) relationships, and there’s often a sense of entitlement and superiority that previously monogamous couples carry into non monogamous relationships. It more often than not manifests as a set of rules that the couple must abide by, and by extension, this will include or exclude others on the couple’s terms only. One doesn’t have to be dating both people in the couple to be subjected to these rules. Here are some examples of “expectations and requirements” I have personally navigated as someone dating an already partnered person:
- I dated a man whose wife demanded that I give her a full rundown of the sexual positions he and I had used when together and how many times each of us orgasmed. I refused. He didn’t want the info shared either but he backed her up because she was the “Primary”. Ironically, she had multiple other partners but refused to share anything about those relationships with her husband.
- The ability to veto a prospective partner is a particularly dysfunctional symptom of Couple Privilege, in my opinion. It’s a huge red flag to me because it speaks to a fundamental insecurity about non monogamy (which is fine, but if you want to do this, work on that first), a complete distrust within the couple, and an unreasonable amount of instability to expect any new partner to accept. It’s a mind game that speaks to the entitlement many couples bring into non monogamous connections. While I have never been vetoed, I have lived under the threat of veto, and let me tell you, it’s not okay. It’s not healthy, or kind, or appropriate. What I would say to anyone who feels the need for it: you’re simply not ready for non monogamy until you have unpacked that and worked through that need for control, et al.
- In one scenario there was a whole list of things I was not allowed to do with my new partner, simply because their other partner said so. It included restaurants we couldn’t go to, sex positions we weren’t allowed to do, movies we couldn’t watch together, and a number of other bizarre obsessions that they had with our relationship.
These, and other examples, have left me wary of dating anyone married or in a long term relationship. (I’ve also never been so happy to be poly-saturated). It’s also underscored how often hierarchical polyamory confuses ethics with privilege. It’s just not something that works for me or how I want to have relationships.
Navigating The Ethics Of Hierarchies
This is a controversial take for some folks, but I personally don’t think Hierarchical Polyamory is ethical. It’s not ethical, nor is it equitable, because it creates what is essentially a class system within the polycule by ranking partners and providing them different rights and privileges. Egalitarian polyamory is the opposite approach. It supports the autonomy and uniqueness of each individual connection with little to no intervention from other partners.
Metamours Can Be More Than You Signed Up For
I have always been open to metamour friendships. Being friends with your partner’s partner is a unique situation that has the potential to be really meaningful, but both people have to be on the same page about what that means. Not all metamours will connect, and that’s okay, provided everyone is respectful. Without really frank discussion and clear boundaries, it can be awkward to be ‘in the middle’, especially if they talk about/ask about each other! It’s a delicate relationship that has a lot of unknowns so compassion and communication will go a very long way to making it work.
Non Monogamy Gets Messy Sometimes
I have no vested interest in whether or not someone is or isn’t a monogamist. I do, however, want people to consider that monogamy is not treated as a choice in our culture, but as a default. It isn’t for everyone, but as someone who has navigated it for a long time, I want them to know that they have options. Non monogamy is not a simple solution for bored monogamists, nor is it something that is positive and possible for everyone. Regardless of how your relationship operates, the emotions driving it are as human as anyone else’s. No matter whom we love, or how, we all experience insecurities, misunderstandings, rejection, jealousy, and a million other nuanced emotional experiences, none of which are limited by how many people we love at once.